Kennebec Coalition News Release
Augusta, ME (March 11, 2021) – Endangered Atlantic salmon are on the brink of dying out in Maine’s Kennebec River because of four antiquated dams between Waterville and Skowhegan, according to state and federal officials. A broad coalition of Maine people and organizations are speaking out in support of removing the four dams to save Atlantic salmon and support economic development and outdoor recreation by restoring a healthy, free-flowing Kennebec River.
“The removal of the Edwards Dam helped revitalize both the Kennebec River and the City of Augusta,” said William Bridgeo, Augusta City Manager and life-long fisherman. “Removal of dams upstream from Waterville would bring the same benefits for the river and riverfront communities farther upstream.”
Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR) is holding a public hearing on Monday, March 15 to discuss a proposed amendment to its Kennebec River Management Plan (view pdf of full amendment or view the most relevant excerpts) recommending removal of the Lockwood and Shawmut Dams. More than 700 comments have been submitted to date in support of the updated management plan for the Kennebec.
“My viewpoint as a landowner along the Shawmut impoundment, as a recreationist on the Shawmut impoundment, and as a professional fisheries biologist is that the removal of the Shawmut Dam as well as other dams on the lower Kennebec River would provide a significant improvement in the habitat and use of the river for diadromous fish species,” said Skowhegan resident Joe Dembeck. “One only has to look at the results of the removals of the Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River and the Fort Halifax Dam on the Sebasticook River to see how aquatic and riparian ecosystems respond.”
Successful river restoration efforts in the lower Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers have shown that when dams are removed, native fish and wildlife return in record numbers, injecting new life into river ecosystems that help revive riverfront communities and support commercial and recreational fisheries.
“I am incredibly proud to have played a part in the successful dam removals on the Penobscot and Kennebec Rivers,” said Bucky Owen, former Commissioner of Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and longtime head of the Wildlife Ecology Department at the University of Maine at Orono. “DMR’s proposed amendment to its Kennebec River Management Plan is a big step in bringing the same ecological, recreational, and economic benefits to the Kennebec above Waterville that have already occurred below Waterville due to the removals of the Edwards and Fort Halifax Dams.”
In their proposed plan, DMR states that “restoration of Atlantic salmon, American shad, blueback herring, alewife, and sea lamprey has lagged on the mainstem Kennebec River, primarily because of the lack of upstream fish passage…Due to large impacts on State resources and relative small generation, the State believes the best approach to meet our management goals for the Kennebec River is to decommission and remove some or all of the dams in the lower Kennebec.”
International energy giant Brookfield Renewable Partners, a Canadian company that operates more than 5,300 power-generating facilities worldwide, owns the four dams that block access to some of Maine’s best fish spawning and rearing habitat. Federal and state agencies have identified these dams as the key impediment to restoring the Kennebec above Waterville and have called for dam removal in an effort to save endangered Atlantic salmon and other sea-run fish. The dams represent only 6% of Maine’s overall hydroelectric capacity and are increasingly unnecessary as the state accelerates the transition to solar and wind energy to combat climate change.
Removal of these four dams would extend further upriver the highly successful river restoration that has occurred below Waterville as a result of the removal of the Edwards Dam in Augusta in 1999 and the removal of the Fort Halifax Dam in Winslow in 2008. Because of those dam removals, the Kennebec and Sebasticook Rivers now support the largest annual river herring run in the nation, exceeding three million fish annually. The restored river also now supports large populations of shad, sturgeon, and other sea-run fish and one of the largest congregations of Bald Eagles in the Eastern U.S. timed with the spring return of river herring. Since 2009, at least 36 million alewives have reached habitat beyond Benton Falls on the Sebasticook. The improved water quality and rejuvenated fisheries and wildlife populations resulting from these dam removals have brought economic and quality-of-life benefits to towns along the Kennebec.
“Since Edwards Dam came out, all the returning fish are stuck below Waterville. It’s created world-class shad fishing, but it’s time to let those fish go upstream so Fairfield and Skowhegan can see similar benefits,” said Waterville resident Willie Grenier.
The Kennebec Coalition, a group of conservation organizations working to restore the Kennebec River, played a central role in achieving removal of the Edwards and Fort Halifax Dams and participated in negotiation of a 1998 legal agreement with upstream dam owners known as the Kennebec Hydro-Developers Group. That agreement was supposed to result in rapid restoration of fish species in the Kennebec as fish surged back following the Edwards Dam removal.
Although millions of fish have now returned to the river below Waterville, that is where their travels end—except for a tiny fraction that are trapped and transported in trucks upstream. Sea-run fish still cannot swim above the Lockwood Dam because Brookfield and previous dam owners have failed to live up to their responsibilities under the 1998 agreement.
“I was a fisheries biologist when the Kennebec was terribly polluted and joined Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection to help clean it up,” said Matt Scott, one of the best-known fisheries biologists in Maine. “Now that the river is clean again, we need to let sea-run fish get back to their historic habitats to spawn by removing the antiquated dams that block their way.”
In July 2020, the federal government rejected Brookfield’s proposed Species Protection Plan for Atlantic salmon. Earlier that year, DMR and National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) both opposed Brookfield’s application for relicensing the Shawmut Dam and instead recommended removing it.
- To learn more about the effort to restore the Kennebec River visit: www.nrcm.org/programs/waters/kennebec-restoration/restoring-kennebec-river/
- To read the Kennebec Coalition’s testimony on DMR’s update to the Kennebec River Management Plan visit:
- To view excerpts from DMR’s update to the Kennebec River Management Plan visit: www.nrcm.org/blog/continuing-restoration-kennebec-river/
The Kennebec Coalition consists of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Rivers, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Trout Unlimited and its Kennebec Valley Chapter. The coalition works together to advocate for the restoration of a healthy Kennebec River.